South America and the European influence

I know, I missed my weekly blog last week and a couple people asked me what was going on. 

But, I have to say I am glad when people call me out about not updating the blog posts, as it shows there are people interested in the articles I write. No I don't make any money off of this but it is a way for me to keep current in what is going on in the wine world, and allows me to find out what interests you.

That said, it has been a fairly busy week for me. Not only have a taken on a new business partner in my "day job", but I organized a Northern Italy wine tasting event last week, and have been grading mid-term exams for my Sommelier students, as well as prepping my course material for South American wine study.

As I usually write about wine events that have occurred during the week, or discussions I had, this week took me in a strange direction. While I was putting together the Northern Italian wine tasting, I was looking at all the potential wines I could present. A walk through the Italian section of a wine shop is about as exciting as walking through the French section for a Sommelier! (All those wines, just waiting to be snatched up!)

Where the interesting path crossed with my South America course prep, was the history of South America, and the Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and German immigrants that came to that part of the world in the late 1800's and early 1900's. They brought with them many of their local grape vine cuttings. The influence of these immigrants, on the local wine culture, is strongly felt today.

Quick...what grape(s) do you associate with Argentina? How about Chile? If you answered Malbec, Torrontes, Carménère, those are good answers. Where did they come from? South America has no natural Vitis Vinifera (wine grapes). All of them were brought there. In a previous article, I gave the quick history of how the wine grape spread around the world, but I left out the immigrants who brought their local vine cuttings with them, along with their agricultural know-how. 

As phylloxera hit the European continent, and countries moved away from agricultural societies, the displaced farmers sought a new beginning. South America offered colonies with agricultural promise, so the move was natural. Malbec and Carménère (along with Sauvignon Blanc, CabernetSauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Viognier and Chardonnay) came from France. Torrontes is thought to be a cross between Criolla (also known as the Mission Grape in California) and Muscat.  Tannat is another grape that shows up in Uruguay. This grape is better known as Madiran in Southwest France, close to Basque country.

While Argentina is known for Malbec and Torrontes, a number of other grape varieties are being grown, and gaining popularity. Most of these are from outside of France: Bonarda (which may be Charbono that is found in France), Sangiovese (Italy) Tempranillo (Spain) and Pedro Jimenez (Spain). Even Riesling (Germany) is beginning to show up in the cooler regions.

Thanks to these immigrants, we don't have to live on Cabernet or Chardonnay alone. There are so many different choices coming out of South America. Sure, you can find a lot of these same grape varieties in California, but here's a little secret (well not so secret anymore)...the wines from Chile and Argentina are not very expensive. They tend to be a bit more "rustic" in style, but I find that difference exciting. For around $15, you can pick up a nice bottle of wine. And, most South America wines are ready for drinking right now.

Next time you are in your favorite wine shop, keep an eye out for these wines. If you haven't noticed, there are more and more available

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